USC Founder Central Initiative

To create and disseminate knowledge about the most important early decisions faced by founders and the other people who help build startups.

For founders and their startups, early decisions about people – cofounders, employees, investors, and board members – are vital to the founders’ and startups’ long-term success.  Yet these decisions are often made without the benefit of a roadmap of the most important early decisions, when these decisions should be made, which options to consider, and the likely long-term consequences of those decisions.

As a result, “people problems” are the biggest reason (by far) for the high failure rate of high-potential startups.  Without a solid roadmap, founders are at an increased risk of making poor people decisions and thus increasing the chances that the founding team will splinter, growth will be harmed, or the founder will be replaced as CEO.

Providing this roadmap is the mission of USC’s Founder Central initiative, facilitating research into the most important decisions faced by founders and spreading the knowledge to the people who can most benefit from it. 

The Founder Central initiative was launched by Professor Noam Wasserman, an award-winning professor and best-selling author of The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Startup in his time at USC. The core materials for Founder Central’s early educational programming, both within and outside of USC, were drawn from the dataset underpinning this book. These include an extraordinarily popular class on Founder’s Dilemmas at USC, taught by several of our faculty members; a series of founder and investor bootcamps; and an inaugural national symposium that brought together academics with a shared interest in understanding early-stage founder decisions.


Christina Lubinski

Christins Lubinski

Christina Lubinski, Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship, is a star mid-career entrepreneurship historian who is also a stellar teacher and institution-builder. Christina joined USC's Greif Center in 2018 as a Visiting Professor, thereafter joining USC full-time. A senior editor of Management and Organizational History and co-editor of the Routledge book series International Studies in Business History, Christina previously served as Associate Professor for Business History at Copenhagen Business School, having received a PhD at the University of Goettingen and thereafter held fellowships at Harvard Business School and the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.

Christina teaches multiple sections of the Founder’s Dilemmas course at USC . She also developed and teaches a popular course on entrepreneurial history: "Entrepreneurial Imagination: Past, Present and Future." 

R. Daniel Wadhwani


Prof. Wadhwani is the Fletcher Jones Chair in Entrepreneurship at University of the Pacific. He also holds appointments as a visiting professor in the Greif Center at USC Marshall, the Department of Management, Politics, and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School and the Department of Economics at Kyoto University. Dan worked with Christina Lubinski to design and develop the "Entrepreneurial Imagination" course. This course takes a novel approach that emphasizes the usefulness of historical knowledge and reasoning for entrepreneurs.


Postdoctoral Fellow

Smrithi Prasad

Smrithi Prasad

Smrithi Prasad completed her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in Social and Personality Psychology. Prior to that, she earned her B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Management at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her primary research examines how events in our social environment – like acute social stressors and competitive outcomes – may modulate the influence of biological and psychological processes in motivating social and economic decision-making behaviors. Her questions are informed by theories and methods from social psychology and behavioral endocrinology using both laboratory paradigms and naturalistic field methodologies.


Hadar Ram

Hadar Ram

Hadar Ram’s research seeks to better understand the underlying mechanisms of human learning by focusing on a fundamental question: when people learn, what do they learn? More specifically, she takes a social-cognitive perspective on learning, examining how past experiences shape the way people perceive the world and behave. She uses those insights to investigate the micro-foundations of entrepreneurship, by studying the subtle signals and cues that impact the decision process of entrepreneurs and investors, examining a range of entrepreneurial processes, such as entrepreneurial learning, investors’ decision-making, and cognitive biases in funding settings. She explores these topics using both lab experiments and field data.

Before joining USC’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Hadar received her Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University in Social Psychology, where she also received teaching awards.


Valeria Giacomin

Valeria GiacominBefore coming to USC, Valeria Giacomin was an Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) since 2018. She completed her PhD thesis at CBS on the palm oil cluster in Southeast Asia in 2017 and won the EBHA Best Dissertation Award in 2018. 

In 2017 and 2018, she was a Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Business School working on entrepreneurship, clustering, and corporate reputation in emerging markets. Her research interests include Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, Clustering & International Trade, Emerging Markets, Business and Global History, and more. 

Valeria holds a BSc in Economics and Finance from Bocconi University (2009), a double MSc degree  in International Management from Bocconi University and Fudan University (China) (2011), and an MA in Southeast Asian Studies from SOAS London (2012). 

Finally, Valeria is also a co-founder and board member of BII Research, a boutique consulting specializing in business and industrial conferences and tech research.